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Rebuilding the Prep-To-Pro NBA History: Class of 2006

The NBA blocked the prep-to-pros route in advance of the 2006 draft. With the league taking the steps to lift the ban and more and more prospects taking alternative routes to the Association, we’re taking a retrospective look at what could have happened had the NBA not imposed the HS-to-NBA-pipeline ban, one class at a time.

2006 McDonald’s All American High School Basketball Game Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

When Amir Johnson’s name became part of the 2005 NBA group of draftees after Detroit selected the Westchester High School (Los Angeles) product with the 56th pick, no other true high schooler would hear his name called in such type of event up to these days. Truth be told, all of Satnam Singh (2015), Thon Maker (2016), and Anfernee Simons (2018) made it to the NBA straight out of high school, but their cases are the exception to the rule and all come with an asterisk attached to them.

The reality, though, is that NBA put a ban of the prep-to-pros pipeline leading up to the 2006 draft, making the members of the 2005 HS class the last ones able to jump-start their pro careers making a straight leap from high school to the Association. That, if you ask me, was a bummer. With that route cut out, prospects were mostly forced to make it to the NCAA ranks for a year before declaring for the draft. The latest developments regarding elite prospects getting ready for the pros, though, are watching them ditch college in favor of other options such as playing overseas (LaMelo Ball and RJ Hampton did it) or entering the G League as part of its Select Team (Jonathan Kuminga, Isaiah Todd, Jalen Green, Daishen Nix, and Kai Sotto will be there next season).

But what if the NBA had not banned the prep-to-pro route back in 2006? With the benefit of hindsight, I’ll go class by class (rankings by 247Sports Composite board) reviewing who could have made the jump straight to the NBA, who was ranked too high and could have flopped after such an eventual jump, who needed the most reps to hone their game, etc. Let’s get to it!

2006 HS Class: Top-10 Prospects

2006 Top-10 HS Prospects

Yr Rk. Name High School Pos Hgt Wgt Stars Avg Nat Pos St College
Yr Rk. Name High School Pos Hgt Wgt Stars Avg Nat Pos St College
2006 1 Greg Oden Lawrence North (Indianapolis, IN) C 7'0 240 5 1.000 1 1 1 Ohio State
2006 2 Kevin Durant Montrose Christian School (Rockville, MD) SF 6'9 204 5 9.996 2 1 1 Texas
2006 3 Brandan Wright Brentwood Academy (Brentwood, TN) PF 6'9 201 5 9.992 3 1 1 North Carolina
2006 4 Spencer Hawes Seattle Preparatory School (Seattle, WA) C 6'11 245 5 9.984 4 2 1 Washington
2006 5 Thaddeus Young Mitchell (Memphis, TN) SF 6'8 205 5 9.982 5 2 2 Georgia Tech
2006 6 Chase Budinger La Costa Canyon (Encinitas, CA) SF 6'7 190 5 9.980 6 3 1 Arizona
2006 7 Ty Lawson Oak Hill Academy (Mouth Of Wilson, VA) PG 5'11 182 5 9.976 7 1 1 North Carolina
2006 8 Henry Walker North College Hill (Cincinnati, OH) SF 6'6 220 5 9.976 8 4 1 Kansas State
2006 9 Wayne Ellington Episcopal Academy (Newtown Square, PA) SG 6'4 190 5 9.974 9 1 1 North Carolina
2006 10 Brook Lopez San Joaquin Memorial (Fresno, CA) PF 6'11 230 5 9.962 10 2 2 Stanford
2006 Top-10 HS Prospects

I don’t think it gets more frustrating than this when it comes to looking at a HS class of prospects being prohibited to jump straight from preps to the NBA. Just look at who scouts had pegged as the top players of the 2006 class of seniors and you’ll see what I mean... Considering the names that were part of the 2005 class and how their pro careers panned out, it gets even worse.

The ‘06 class was a monster one. Greg Oden was a bonafide no. 1 player back then and there were zero doubts about his NBA potential back in the day, as he was seen as a true leader and the best player of his age even over Kevin Durant. That’s right, and although both needed to expend a year in the collegiate ranks, Oden would still prevail as the best prospect in the country after his freshman season playing at Ohio State, thus getting picked no. 1 overall in the 2007 NBA draft over the same Durant who went to the Seattle Supersonics.

The class didn’t end at the second-overall spot, though. Far from it. Scouts did a good job slotting every top-10 prospect in a proper spot, as all of them went on to play at least six seasons in the NBA with four (Durant, Young, Lawson, and Lopez) racking up more than 40 Win Shares (WS) through 2020.

There was virtually no misses at the top of this class. Kids knew about what they’re future held as the NBA announced that they’d be forced to go through a nurturing year in the NCAA, they took advantage of it, and thus the first one-and-done class was born and, truth be told, turned into a massive hit.

Which players WOULD have gone prep-to-pros?

It is easy to write about classes so far away in time with the benefit of hindsight, not going to lie about that. Back then, though, things were looked at from different angles and perspectives. I mean, we’re talking about 18-year-old kids making the jump to the NBA, which is a grown men’s league all of its own.

The consensus no. 1 and no. 2 players in the class, Oden and Durant, would have been virtual locks to make the jump from prep to pros and both of them would have been easy lottery picks in the 2006 NBA draft. In their single years as NCAA players, both were part of 32+ games, logged 900+ minutes, and were the only two freshmen to finish the season with more than 7.6 WS (Oden 8.2, Durant 8.8). They basically dominated the competition and wouldn’t have had a bad time making the NBA early.

Playing great college basketball as a freshman doesn’t mean that any player that can do so would have also been good on the NBA ranks, keep that in mind. But without proven track records at the collegiate level and just based on their HS logs, some more teens would have tested their luck submitting their application for the draft. Brandan Wright seems like a lock to have tested the waters and enter the NBA straight from high school as a potential first-round draftee. He proved his talent in college as a freshman and carried a very serious hype coming out of high school, making him a serious candidate.

Some other highly-touted prospects that played their senior years at great preps and had the perfect personalities to put their names in the eligible list for the 2006 draft could have been Thaddeus Young, Daequan Cook, and Mike Conley with widely varying chances of becoming first- or even second-round picks.

Which players COULD have gone prep-to-pros?

As they were forced to play one year of college basketball, some players from the 2006 class went on to solidify their reputations facing tougher competition that at high school tournaments, and some others popped out of nowhere after being buried in the scout ranks prior to the NCAA season.

Again, Oden and Durant would have been locks to declare and turn into lottery picks prior to the college season and even more after it took place. The case of Brandan Wright wasn’t as clear, but he proved his worth in his freshman year too turning into an 8th-overall pick one year later.

Another guy that went on to have a year on pair with his ranking coming out of high school was Conley, who teamed-up with Oden in OSU. Ty Lawson was another point guard that showed ability early and might have found a place in the NBA if jumping early.

More of a long-shot were the cases of kids who played nicely as freshmen but came with doubts and probably would have made NBA teams hesitant of picking them as teens in the draft. Chase Budinger is one of them. He opted to stay playing college basketball for multiple seasons although he might have found his way through the draft at least as a second-rounder had he declared straight from HS.

Which players did scouts WHIFFED on the most?

Let’s not lose our time here. There are two players from the 2006 HS class that jump out the page glaringly as all-time scouting whiffs. Obviously, we’re looking almost 15 years back from our days, and these two defeated all expectations by a mile, but still: Russell Westbrook and Steph Curry were ranked as the nos. 137 and 256 of their senior HS year. As incredible as it sounds.

That is on the positive side of things, of course. Both Russ and Steph stand as superstars in the NBA. One is looking to win his first title while having put together some monstrous statistical seasons, and the other forged a dynasty in Golden State. Both of them just crossed the 100 career-WS this season. Not bad. Other interesting names that got lost in the middle of nowhere where those of Wesley Matthews (no. 186), Ryan Anderson (231), Jeremy Lin (426), Mike Scott (367), Wesley Johnson (340), or Ekpe Udoh (264).

On the flip side of the coin, though, scouts seemed to be way too high on some guys that ultimately didn’t amount to much in the NBA or just plain and simply ended not making it there. Enter no. 11 Javaris Crittenton, who only played two seasons and 113 NBA games before bolting for other pastures (he could have turned into a great bust had he jumped from HS), or no. 12 Paul Harris. This last one, Harris, had a troubling story off the court, spent three years in college, went undrafted in 2009 and ultimately never made it past what we now know as the G League.